The period immediately following World War II was one of uncertainty and constant change for Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, personnel. Demobilization progressed rapidly. Some WACs remained on active duty both in the continental United States and with the Armies of Occupation in Europe and the Far East while others decided to return home with their memories and souvenirs from the war.
In August 1945, enlistments in WAC closed with the Corps’ schools and training centers also closed.
Then in February 1946, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the preparation of legislation to make WAC a permanent part of the Army. Lt. Col. Mary Louise Milligan (later Rasmuson) became a consultant/planner for the project. Col. Hallaren, third director of the WAC, became the recognized leader in the fight for passage of the legislation. In September 1947, the bill was combined with the WAVES/Women Marines bill and a section to include women in the Air Force was added. The bill was renamed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law, June 12, 1948.
In July 1948, the first enlisted women entered the regular Army, and in December, the first WAC officers received regular Army appointments. Women could enlist from ages 18 to 35. Enlistment under age 21 required parental or guardian consent. Women were no longer sent to a TO unit of 150 women, but received individual assignments. Enlistments in WAC, regular Army, opened to civilians in September 1948, and on Oct. 4, the Women’s Army Corps Training Center opened on Camp Lee, Va.
The first officer commissioned in WAC, regular Army, Hallaren, was sworn in and appointed as director of WAC, Dec. 3, 1948. On June 12, 1949, 11 applicants were offered appointments as WAC warrant officers junior grade, regular Army. Seven accepted.
Then on June 15, 1949, the first WAC Organized Reserve Corps training was initiated. To obtain more WAC officers, the first direct commissions were offered that year to women college graduates as second lieutenants in the Organized Reserve Corps.
President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. air and naval forces into the Republic of Korea, June 27, 1950.. With the outbreak of the Korean Conflict, WAC strength authorization increased. WAC officers were involuntarily recalled to active duty, and those who had been the first to enlist when the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act passed in 1948, were caught in involuntary extensions.
Approximately 20 percent of WACs served overseas during the Korean War era. In the Far East Theater, WACs were needed to work in direct support of the combat theater in hospitals and as communicators, supply specialists, record keepers and administrators.
Just as important were the services of those WACs sent to Cold War Europe. Political and military leaders in the United States were so worried that the Soviet Union would try to take advantage of the United States’ preoccupation with Korea that they increased the numbers of Army and Air Force troops stationed in western Europe. WACs, assigned to Europe, worked mainly as cryptographers; supply, intelligence, and communication specialists; and hospital technicians.
Although a WAC unit was not established in Korea, individual WACs served in Korea on special assignments. The Korean Women’s Army Corps was formed in 1950 around a group of policewomen trained by a former WAC, Alice A. Parrish. In 1952, a number of individual WAC officers and enlisted women filled key administrative positions in Pusan and later in Seoul.
In 1950, the Army initiated action to establish a permanent training center and home for the WAC on Fort McClellan, Alabama. The new center opened in early 1956, and included a headquarters with supporting personnel, a basic training battalion and a Women’s Army Corps School.
The school trained enlisted women in typing, stenography and clerical duties. An Officer Candidate School prepared enlisted women to serve as officers, and a WAC Officer Basic Course trained women with college degrees.
The first foreign women officers (six women from Burma) entered WAC Officer Basic Class, Aug. 1, 1956. These were the first of many foreign women to train at Fort McClellan.
The first commander of the center was Lt. Col. Eleanore C. Sullivan. She also held the position of commandant of the WAC school.
Col. Mary Louise Milligan was appointed director, WAC, replacing Col. Irene Galloway, Jan. 3, 1957. Col. Galloway’s tenure included increased military pay and reenlistment bonuses, the Army’s new MOS Management System for enlisted personnel, and moving the WAC to its new home.
Not long after the establishment of the center, in March 1956, the Army Uniform Board approved the concept of a women’s green winter service uniform and a two-piece green cord uniform for summer. The first in the women’s green uniform ensemble was the Army green cord suit, issued in March 1959. The women’s Army green service uniform was issued during July 1960. These two uniforms marked the beginning of the Army green for women; men had received theirs earlier. The development of the Army green uniform for both men and women marked another move toward equity between men and women Soldiers, which continued into other areas.
The first WAC officer was assigned to Vietnam in March 1962. It was not until 1965 that the use of WAC personnel in support elements was considered feasible for Vietnam. It was decided that WACs could make positive contributions, particularly in clerical, secretarial and administrative military occupational specialties, or MOSs.
Col. Elizabeth P. Hoisington was appointed the 7th director of WAC, Aug. 1, 1966. A WAC detachment of enlisted women was assigned to Headquarters, USARV, first at Ton Son Nhut Airbase in 1966, and then at the headquarters in Long Binh, from 1967 to October 1972. While engineers readied new barracks at Long Binh, the women lived in a building typical of the tropics, with openings between outer wallboards and no windows. Red dust covered their rooms during the dry season, and rain soaked them during the wet season. The official uniform at that time was the green cord; however, most WACs chose to wear fatigues because of the living conditions.
WACs continued to serve in Vietnam until the withdrawal of troops in 1973. Few problems arose during the seven years that WACs served in Vietnam although they did receive scrapes and bruises diving for cover from incoming artillery fire since the ammunition depot at Long Binh was a frequent enemy target.
Public Law 90-130, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson Nov. 8, 1967, removed promotion restrictions on women officers in the Armed forces. Thereafter, it was possible for more than one women in each service to hold the rank of colonel and for women to achieve general (or flag) officer rank.
The first WAC officer to be promoted to brigadier general was Hoisington, June 11, 1970, while serving as the 7th director of WAC. Col. Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps, was promoted on the same day.
A year later, when Hoisington retired, her successor as WAC director, Col. Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey, was promoted to brigadier general concurrently with being appointed director.
The 9th and last Corps director, Col. Mary E. Clarke, was promoted to brigadier general, Aug. 1, 1975.
PL 90-130 also removed retirement restrictions on women officers and the two percent limitation on WAC numbers – permitting WACs to be appointed in the Army National Guard and Air Guard. PL 36, 80th Congress, April 16, 1947, allowed women in the Army Medical Department in the Army National Guard and Air Guard.
The Vietnam era also marked other changes and the beginning of two other advancements for women. Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, assigned to WAC Training Battalion, became the first WAC promoted to command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank, March 30, 1968.
Army regulations permitted WAC to request waivers for retention on active duty if married and pregnant, April 9, 1971. In February 1972, enlisted women entered the drill sergeants courses at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
In August 1972, all military occupational specialties opened to WAC officers and enlisted women except those that might require combat training or duty.
The advent of the All-Volunteer Force in 1973 made a large difference in the numbers of women coming into the Army. As a result of recruitment and greater opportunities, the total number of WACs in the Army increased from 12,260 in 1972 to 52,900 in 1978.
Army women had been allowed to rig parachutes during World War II, but could not participate in parachute jumps. In 1950, a parachute rigger course was added to the Quartermaster School curriculum on Fort Lee, Virginia. It was not initially open to female soldiers since they were not “jump-qualified.” That changed in 1972 when 43E was added to WAC’s active-duty list of available MOSs. Within months, female soldiers were graduating from the parachute rigger course, assigned to airborne units around the country, and were jumping with their own chutes.
The move to the All-Volunteer Force led the Army to begin recruiting women aggressively for the Reserve components. As with the active force, recruiting, training, and opportunities improved for women, and by the end of September 1978, the Army Reserve had approximately 25,000 WACs and the Army National Guard had more than 13,000.
Women entered the Army Reserve Officers Training Program, or ROTC, beginning in September 1972. South Dakota State University first graduated women in the college ROTC program, May 1, 1976. By May 1981, approximately 40,000 women were enrolled in college and university ROTC units throughout the United States. Young women (age 14) could enter the Junior ROTC in 1972. By May 1981, more than 32,000 were enrolled in the high school units.
Weapons training for women became mandatory in June 1975. In 1976, the weapons training program was expanded to include additional small arms weapons, the light antitank weapon, or LAW, the 40mm grenade launcher, the Claymore mine, and the M60 machine gun. Weapons training began with training on the Ml6 rifle. Women officers, warrant officers, cadets, and officer candidates received the same weapons training as men.
By 1977, combined basic training for men and women became policy after a test conducted at Fort Jackson the year before.
Vietnam, elimination of the draft, and the rise of the feminist movement had an impact on the Women’s Army Corps. There was a renewed emphasis on parity and increased opportunity for women in uniform. On May 24, 1974, Congress reduced the minimum age for enlistment of women to the same as men – age 17 with parental consent (18 without), effective April 1, 1976.
President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-106 that permitted women to be admitted to all service academies beginning in 1976, October 7, 1975. On Jan. 1, 1976, length of long tours in overseas areas was increased from 24 months to thirty-six months for single females, the same as tours for single males. On June 30, 1975, the defense secretary directed elimination of involuntary discharge of military women because of pregnancy and parenthood.
September 1975 also brought changes in the WAC uniform. The mint green uniform replaced the green cord. A dark green pantsuit was approved for issue. Four sets of fatigues and two pair of field boots were issued to enlisted women.
The first gender-integrated class of Military Police One-Station-Unit-Training began at Fort McClellan, July 8, 1977. In September 1977, WACs participated for the first time in the NATO REFORGER Exercise in Germany – something Army nurses had been doing already, since 1971. The need for a separate Women’s Army Corps faded as women assimilated into male training, assignments, and logistics and administrative management.
In a ceremony at the Pentagon, April 28, 1978, the Army formally dissolved the position of director of WAC. Brig. Gen. Clarke was immediately reassigned as commanding general of the U.S. Army Military Police and Chemical Corps Schools and Training Center on Fort McClellan. In September 1978, Congress passed a law that disestablished the WAC as a separate Corps of the Army effective, Oct. 20, 1978.
Disestablishment of the WAC signaled an increasingly important role for women within the Army. In September 1977, men and women began training in the same basic training units on Fort McClellan and Fort Jackson, and in October 1978 on Fort Dix and Fort Leonard Wood.
Enlistment qualifications became the same for men and women by order of the Army secretary, Oct. 1, 1979.
An act of Congress passed in October 1975 directing the Academy to accept women into its training program in 1976. In 1980, the first women cadets graduated from U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. Since then, women have continued to enter every class there.
In August 1982, the defense secretary ordered the increase in Army enlisted women’s strength from 65,000 to 70,000 and officers from 9,000 to 13,000, including medical personnel.